Guest contributors: Claire McCartney and Rachel Suff, CIPD Policy Advisers (13 May 2021)
More organisations are starting to realise that the menopause is an important workplace issue, but there are still too many workplaces where the topic is taboo. This means that too many women continue to suffer in silence while often just a few small changes could transform the quality of their working life. Women over the age of 50 are the fastest-growing group in the workforce and the average age for the menopause transition is 51. Therefore, there are very few workplaces that are not affected. As more women go through the menopause during their working lives, it’s vital that they can access the right support.
The menopause is a natural stage of life experienced by most women, and some women sail through it. However, the majority do not. CIPD research in 2019 shows that three out of five (59%) of working women between the ages of 45 and 55 with menopause symptoms say it has a negative impact on them at work. The main impacts include higher stress, loss of concentration, and less patience with colleagues and customers.
The COVID-19 pandemic is having a mixed impact on women experiencing the menopause transition. Some who have been working exclusively from home may find it easier to cope with certain symptoms, but many may find the challenges of the ongoing situation have exacerbated some of their symptoms, including psychological ones. It’s likely that many women may not have felt able to access the medical support they need, for example through their GP.
Let’s talk menopause
We need to start by encouraging more conversations about the menopause! Employers can begin by promoting awareness of the symptoms associated with menopause transition across their workforce.
Three in 10 women (30%) said they had taken sick leave because of their symptoms, but only a quarter of them felt able to tell their manager the real reason for their absence.
This finding, combined with the fact that more women say they feel supported by their colleagues (48%) when going through the menopause than by their managers (32%), underlines the need for organisations to train and educate their managers. As the first port of call very often for accessing support and helpful adjustments, line managers should have a broad understanding of how menopausal symptoms can potentially impact on some employees’ interaction with their job. Managers also need to be knowledgeable about what changes may be helpful to support women who are experiencing particular symptoms.
Crucially, they need to feel confident to have sensitive and supportive discussions.
If managers feel comfortable talking to employees about the menopause, other people are less likely to feel embarrassed. However, it’s important to remember that not every woman will want to talk about the menopause, so be careful not to make assumptions. Conversely, we know from experience that many men are likely to be interested – they could well have a partner, friend or relative who is experiencing the menopause.
What policies and practices can help?
In 2019, when we polled HR professionals, just one in 10 told us that their organisation had in place any kind of policy, guidance or framework relating to the menopause. We really hope this figure has increased, and there are signs that awareness is growing in workplaces as well as in society more widely. This needs to be translated into practical support on the ground that can tangibly improve how women with menopausal symptoms can balance their health needs with their job.
It’s for every organisation to decide how best they can develop a framework to create a menopause-friendly workplace. As a guiding principle, employers should support people with menopausal symptoms in the same way they would with any other long-term and fluctuating health condition. As such, offering flexibility – both in working patterns and job design – can really help. Absence management policies and procedures should also be flexible and not unfairly penalise individuals who may need to take time off – often at short notice – because of any debilitating symptoms.
Information and education about the menopause can be included as part of the organisation’s diversity and inclusion training for employees, and wellbeing policies provide a good opportunity to signpost to the support available, as well as helpful external links. Some employers use health and wellbeing days to promote advice on the menopause, or have ‘lunch and learn' sessions.
You can download the free CIPD printable resources to help your organisation create a menopause-friendly workplace: there are guides for HR professionals and a guide for line managers, developed in partnership with Bupa, with practical tips to make reasonable adjustments, as well as posters and leaflets: www.cipd.co.uk/menopause
Let’s keep up the momentum
We need change on a number of different levels to ensure that public policy acts as a lever to embed effective menopause support in workplaces. In 2019 the CIPD therefore launched its Menopause Manifesto in Westminster, which calls on:
- The Government to tackle the stigma surrounding the Menopause at work and raise awareness across business, linking effective support on the menopause to attracting and retaining valuable female talent, often at the peak of their careers, knowledge, and skills.
- HR Professionals to take a proactive approach to the menopause at work through a dedicated policy or plan and create an open, inclusive, and supportive culture.
- Line managers to be knowledgeable about the support available and confident about discussing any changes that could benefit members of their team.
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